China facts of the day

Suicide is now the biggest single killer among young Chinese people, the country’s first national suicide survey has shown.

Each year more than a quarter of a million people in China are taking their own lives, the study showed.

But the most significant finding was that, unlike almost everywhere else in the world, more women than men commit suicide.

Suicide now accounts for a third of all deaths among women in the countryside.

In the study, to be
published in British medical journal, The Lancet, US and Chinese
researchers discovered there was apparently a significantly lower rate
of mental illness among those committing suicide than would be the case
in the West.

Dr Michael Phillips, who
helped lead the study, told the BBC that while 90-95% of those taking
their own lives in the West suffered significant mental illness at the
time of attempting suicide, around a third of those in China did not.

…the biggest single reason why so many suicide attempts in China are successful is their method.

Nearly two-thirds of them are by consuming pesticides and powerful rat poisons which are extremely easy to buy in China.

Here is the story, courtesy of


250,000 suicides in a population of a billion is a suicide rate of 25 per 100,000. Is that a lot or a little compared to developed countries?

The CDC reports 30,622 suicides in 2001 ( and I'm guessing there were 280 million Americans that year. So I come up with a U.S. rate of about 11 per 100,000--less than half China's. But since I did the math myself and I am nearly totally innumerate, no one should rely on my calculations.

My question is: How many of the reported suicides are actually homicides? (I don't know enough about the poisons involved if this is feasible.)

We'd need to compare the Chinese homicide rates as well as the suicide rates to get a better picture overall of what might be going on.

Clearly the Chinese government needs to solve this problem with mass regulation on pesticides and rat poison. I guess they have a shortage of tall buildings in China.

I doubt that 90-95% of suicides in the West are mentally ill. A large fraction of all suicides in the U.S. are terminally ill men (seldom women) who decide to move up the inevitable by a few months.

The fact that suicide is more common for women indicates that cultures don't adjust quickly, even when there are shortages. The countryside has been short of women (relative to the number of men) for several decades now. The balance may have gone the other way in the civil war, Japan occupation, etc. But in the Great Leap Forward, young girls died much faster than anyone else (as is common in Confucian societies during times of famine).

More recently, the one child policy has led to a shortage of girls. Economic theory might suggest that girls and women would hence become more valuable, but that's only with enforceable 'property' rights (including the right to own oneself). In practice, it has led to more kidnappings of potential brides (who won't necessarily try to escape later, since their families might not take them back). This data on suicides hints that those that are lucky enough to have a wife in the countryside aren't cherishing her, perhaps because there are limited 'resale' markets.

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